Individual Reality and the Fork in the Road
Which ‘Reality’ Will You Choose?
I had an experience last week that had never before happened to me in 23 years of business travel. I stepped off a plane in San Jose, California, and headed to the National Car Rental center. It was only then that I realized I had left home without my driver's license.
“No matter,” I thought. “I have rented 40+ cars this year, including one earlier this week. National has a copy of my driver's license in my account. Plus, living in Colorado, the state issues an official digital copy of your driver's license, which I carry on my phone. I’m all set.”
I am sharing my self-talk because I want you to see how I was constructing my individual reality in that moment. We construct our individual reality by what we think, what we say and what we do. At the San Jose airport, I was using my self-talk to reduce my apprehension about what might happen if I was not permitted to rent a car. This self-talk was my individual reality because while I can describe it to you, I can't share it with you directly as I might a meal or a drink.
At the exit gate, the attendant asked for my license. I pulled the digital copy up on my phone. The attendant apologized and said she couldn’t accept it. She needed the physical license. I told her that I had forgotten it at home and that the digital license had been accepted before elsewhere – which was true on one occasion. After leaving for a moment to consult her manager, she came back telling me the same thing and inviting me to speak with him.
With the manager, I again explained the situation. He apologized and reiterated that I could not rent the car without a physical license. He explained that the physical license was required because if I had received a DWI earlier that week, it would be marked on my physical license and might not be on the digital copy. It was the only way they could ensure that my driver’s license was still in good standing.
The Fork in the Road
At that moment, I had to decide how to respond. I had to choose an individual reality that would allow me to handle the situation. That individual reality would have to be constructed by me, at that moment. It was like being at a fork in the road.
Left Fork: Construct a state of righteous indignation by continuing to tell myself that my digital license had been accepted before, so it should be accepted again. Tell myself that the manager doesn’t know what he’s talking about and ask for his supervisor. Think of myself as “better than” and the manager as “less than,” because I’m sure I know more than he does. Decide that the manager must have something against me and is using his authority to make my life more difficult. Since we are now adversaries, act with greater intensity and forcefulness. Raise my voice and become more insistent that I be allowed to rent a car.
Right Fork: Tell myself “!@*/#%^! – I messed up!” Construct an individual reality where I am responsible and where I do not diminish the person in front of me or elevate myself. Take responsibility for the thoughts, words and deeds that follow — including constructing a solution.
I chose the right fork. I realized that I could take care of everything I needed to do on this trip with just three Lyft rides. Using Lyft did cost more than renting a car, but it still allowed me to complete my big-picture goal.
So what can you learn from my experience (besides that you should confirm you have your driver’s license before leaving for the airport)?
We Always Have Options
In any situation, we can see options of taking one fork in the road or another.
The writer Anaïs Nin once said, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” “As we are” refers to our individual reality — which, again, is constructed by us. We choose what we think, what we say and what we do, moment to moment, even if we are not aware of our ability to do so.
When we are unaware, we are acting from the nonconscious, automatic part of our brain. We are acting according to an individual reality that has already been constructed by us, for us, and it is not being examined in the moment.
Our individual reality is part of what will determine how we behave in a given moment. Seeing a fork in the road is a way to assess your individual reality in that moment and look for alternatives.
The ‘Left Fork’ Has a High Cost
I have seen people take each of the aforementioned forks in the road. While it is not common, I have even seen times when the person taking the left fork has gotten his way — but at a high cost personally, professionally, physically and emotionally.
Clinging to a destructive individual reality will leave you spent and emotionally bankrupt. The fork on the right is more harmonious and less combative. It will leave you, and the people around you, in a much better state to face whatever challenge comes next.
Change Starts with Awareness
When we understand that we construct and control our individual reality, we become empowered to think, speak and act differently in the world.
I was raised in an immigrant family. Like in many other immigrant families, waste of any kind was prohibited, even sinful. In that environment, I was taught to create an individual reality based on scarcity. That was how I saw the world — not because that is how the world was, but because of how I was in the world.
In business, constructing an individual reality of scarcity creates thoughts, words and deeds that display competitiveness and a lack of generosity. When I look at my behavior when I started my business in 2000, I can see the results of that individual reality, including hourly billing, keeping an eye on the clock, being concerned I was “being taken advantage of” and always wondering what others were billing and making. Sometimes I wonder how I survived in business with that individual reality.
I was fortunate, early on, to meet and work with Leonard Cox, an expert on organizations and people, who taught me many, many things. One of the most important things I learned from him was his spirit of generosity. He was so magnanimous that I quickly learned that I could construct an individual reality of abundance. Constructing abundance creates collaboration, generosity and creativity. After I changed my individual reality from scarcity to abundance, my business began to flourish. And it has continued to do so, because I have continued to nourish an individual reality of abundance.
How Do You See the World?
When we understand that we construct our individual reality, we realize that we can change it.
Imagine being outside on a bright, sunny day without sunglasses. Even squinting and shading your eyes, you can’t see very far. You can make out some things, but not very well and only with great effort. That is your current individual reality.
Now imagine putting on a pair of polarized sunglasses. You can see farther without strain. You don’t have to squint. You can act effortlessly. It’s like a different world! But the world didn’t change. You changed. You see the world differently because you are looking at it through different lenses – a different individual reality.
I begin every culture presentation with the statement, “When you change the way you see the world, the world you see changes.” There are many areas where it’s beneficial to examine our individual reality.
What is your individual reality when it comes to scarcity vs. abundance? People vs. profit? Is the world a dangerous place that we need to protect ourselves from or more of a playground for us to experiment within? Is the Earth round or flat? Was the 2020 election stolen or legitimate?
When it comes to controversial issues, we must understand that when others look at the same information and draw different conclusions than ours, it is not because they are crazy, stupid or evil. These controversies form when individual realities diverge. They present a fork in the road. Which path will you choose?
This is the second article in my series on the nature of reality. Part 1 was on the three types of reality. My next blog article will focus on how we gain support for our individual realities through our social realities.
I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.